Maryland Eastern Shore Office Update

From the Desk of Alan Girard

Fall 2017

Oysters, Menhaden, and More on the Shore

On its surface, my food web doesn't seem that large.

Local farmers and farmers markets supply a lot of what our family eats. The neighborhood grocery store plays a big role too.

But of course, there's more to it than that. Look at all that happens to produce a vine-ripened tomato or a farm-fresh egg, and the interactions are dizzyingly complex (awe-inspiring, really). But in the end, the market is a final, crucial link between most of us humans and the food we need to live.

The Bay's critters aren't so fortunate. Freshly caught seafood isn't laid out on crushed ice for the taking. So, if you're a rockfish looking for your next meal, your food web better be ready to deliver.

Scientists at CBF, and around the region, have been untangling the Bay's food web to help us know as much as possible about species interdependence–and they've made an important finding. One fish is more like a grocery store than any other: the Atlantic Menhaden.

Packed with calories that come mainly from their high oil content, menhaden are sought after by bluefish, flounder, rockfish, and even marine mammals like dolphins and whales. Additionally, wild birds including osprey, pelicans, and loons love them too. Each menhaden is a mini energy transfer station, trapping in its gills microscopic plants that convert the sun's rays into sugar, then converting those plants into the nutrient-rich fish that predators crave. Senior naturalist John Page Williams calls menhaden "the grazing livestock that make our Bay's food web work."

Learn more about recent changes in the management of this important species. 

Don't Forget the Mighty Oyster

Food, of course, is not all that Bay critters need to thrive. Clean and clear water is important. So too is shelter from predators. And physical places where interactions among species can make each one more resilient, productive, and healthy. The Bay's oyster reefs provide all this and more.

Anglers of all ages recently explored restored oyster reefs in and around the Choptank River at the inaugural Rod and Reef Slam held near Tilghman Island this fall. Unlike traditional fishing tournaments where prizes are given for the biggest fish caught, this competition awarded anglers who landed the greatest number of fish species. More than 50 catch entries comprised of 13 distinct species highlight the complex and attractive habitat that oyster reefs provide. Congratulations to Herb and Rhonda Floyd who caught nine of the 13 species hooked that day, including white perch, striped bass, spot, flounder, silver perch, oyster toadfish, northern puffer, blue crab, spotted sea trout, naked goby, and weakfish.

Interested in learning more about oysters and what's being done to protect and restore them? Join us for an osyters and wine reception where local wine connoisseurs and Chesapeake Bay oyster farmers will pair these two fine delicacies in delightful combinations. Policy experts and scientists will also be on hand to provide information on restoration efforts and changes in the industry being made to help the species recover.

What: Oysters and Wine Reception
When: 2:00–5:00 p.m. Sunday, January 21, 2017
Where: Easton Shore Conservation Center in Easton, Maryland
RSVP: Online registration is coming soon. Check or contact Hilary Gibson at 410-543-1999 or for additional information. 

—Alan Girard
Eastern Shore of Maryland Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

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